A budding cannabis research cluster in Fredericton

The city’s two universities create new research chairs related to cannabis.

A new research cluster will soon be sparking to life in Fredericton as the city’s two universities each begin their search for a researcher to fill a new chair in cannabis research, reportedly the first two such chairs in the country.

St. Thomas University’s new chair will focus on the social impact of cannabis, both as a medicinal and recreational drug, while the University of New Brunswick’s chair will tackle the pharmacology and biochemistry of cannabis. Read more in University Affairs.

Free certification for US cannabis labs to help fight opioid epidemic

Ensuring that America’s medical marijuana is reliable and of high quality will help patients and drive down opioid use in the country, according to Americans for Safe Access.

A group dedicated to improving access to and the safety of medicinal cannabis in the US is offering its certification programme free of charge to cannabis testing labs to help fight the country’s opioid epidemic.

The Americans for Safe Access (ASA)’s Patient Focused Certification (PFC) programme is intended to be a mark of quality for cannabis testing labs, and to help them prepare for ISO 17025 accreditation – the main international standard for demonstrating the technical competence and accuracy of testing and calibration labs, says Jahan Marcu, director of the certification programme. Read more in Chemistry World.

How Space Technology Will Produce the Best Weed Ever

Mike Dixon wants to send plants to Mars. Growing crops in space is the best way to provide proper nutrition to the crew on a long-duration mission, this University of Guelph researcher believes—but because there’s no manned mission to Mars scheduled at the moment, it’s hard to get funding for this type of research.

In the meantime, he and a growing number of other botanists are studying a plant where there’s plenty of funding right now, in Canada anyway: cannabis. Read more in Motherboard.

Drug development: The treasure chest

Pharmaceutical research into the chemicals found in cannabis has so far supplied only one licensed medicine. But scientists think there could be hundreds more.

The annual meeting of the International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS) is a highly unusual scientific conference. It has been closed to all media since its inception 25 years ago, lending an air of mystery to the gathering of researchers who study the unique chemicals found in cannabis.

In a relaxation of the organization’s long-standing policy, ICRS permitted Nature reporters to attend this year’s conference, which was hosted by Acadia University in the tiny Canadian town of Wolfville, Nova Scotia. The tight-knit group of researchers are bound together by onerous government restrictions on their subject, and by their sufferance of lingering suspicions from other scientists that they are a bunch of hippies trying to get an illicit drug legalized.

“The status of cannabis as an illegal substance makes it difficult for some people to take it seriously,” concedes Mark Ware, a pain specialist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, who focuses on the analgesic properties of cannabis. Read more in Nature.

How to Test the Potency of Pot-Infused Foods

Photo by Jahan Marcu

Photo by Jahan Marcu

Eating a bag of THC-laced gummy bears may seem like a safer way of taking your medical marijuana than smoking a joint, but how do you know that you’re actually getting the right dose? It turns out the labels on edible products—when they even exist—are often inaccurate, and testing is actually very hard to do.

Up to a quarter of medical cannabis users in the US get their dose from edible products such as oils, brownies or candies. In Canada, the Supreme Court ruled in June that patients should be allowed to ingest edible medical marijuana, too. But while the number of products and the places such products are sold continues to grow, the regulations that govern how edibles should be labelled vary between jurisdictions, and are often weak and poorly enforced. Read more on Motherboard.

Colleges set guidelines for marijuana

Physicians need to ensure conventional therapies are exhausted before prescribing medical marijuana, say many provincial colleges.

The seven provincial colleges of physicians that have issued guidelines are urging their members to take a cautious approach to prescribing medical marijuana.

The uncertainty over the risks and benefits of the drug and the lack of reliable data on its clinical effects are underlying caveats in guidelines from the colleges. The colleges advise physicians to take great care when deciding whether to prescribe cannabis to patients and to first ensure that conventional therapies have been exhausted. Read more in CMAJ.

Quebec doctors aim to fill marijuana knowledge gaps

Doctors in Quebec who prescribe medical marijuana will automatically take part in a province-wide research project to assess the risks and benefits of the drug.

Health Canada recently shifted responsibility for deciding who should have access to the drug onto the shoulders of individual doctors, raising concerns among physician groups, including the Canadian Medical Association, about the lack of robust data on the safety and effectiveness of marijuana used for medical purposes. Read more in CMAJ.

Be wary of “prescribing” medical marijuana, CMA warns

Canadian physicians should be wary of “prescribing” medical marijuana under new regulations that come into effect on Apr. 1, 2014, says the president of the Canadian Medical Association.

“For the CMA, nothing has really changed,” says Dr. Hugo Francescutti. “Our stand has always been that there is insufficient scientific evidence to support the use of marijuana for clinical purposes.”

In addition, he says, the regulatory colleges have indicated that they have concerns about patient safety and will be keeping a close eye on doctors who do “prescribe” the drug. “They are telling us to tread very gently. So if you are about to authorize access to marijuana you better really have the evidence that shows that it has some beneficial impact for your patient, because if something untoward happens you will be held to quite a high standard.” Read more in CMAJ.

With pot now legal, therapies sought to blunt high of marijuana

Marijuana is going mainstream in the US. On 1 January, Colorado became the first state in the country to allow recreational use of the drug. Washington is set to do the same within the next few months, and many others are considering similar measures.

Critics of these moves say that legalizing marijuana will increase consumption, leading to an uptick in substance use problems. And with more than 4 million Americans already dependent on or abusing marijuana—making cannabis the number 3 recreational drug after alcohol and tobacco—scientists and public health officials are increasingly fretting over the dearth of available pharmacologic treatments for marijuana addiction. “Every day we are growing more concerned about the number of people seeking treatment,” says Ivan Montoya, a psychiatrist and epidemiologist who serves as deputy director in the division of pharmacotherapies at the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in Bethesda, Maryland. Read more in Nature Medicine.